If you believe some dings and scratches on your car are indignities to avoid by flouting the law, you have something in common with the state's public utility consumer advocate, Elin Katz. If, however, you join the rest of us in honoring the reservation of certain parking spaces for people with disabilities, you will want to read this story that tells a tale of callous, grasping entitlement.
What is it about Malloy administration officials named Katz and their notions of privilege when they enter a parking garage? Two weeks ago, I wrote about Joette Katz, Commissioner of the Department of Children and Families, storing her deluxe BMW convertible at a state garage for the winter. Elin Katz has trumped her by trampling on fundamental notions of fairness.
Katz, a West Hartford Democrat, became the consumer counsel in the regulated business of public utilities in 2011. In March 2012, she purchased a black Toyota Highlander, a midsize sport utility vehicle. It was larger than the car it replaced. Katz, according to a spokesman, "was uncomfortable parking in her designated spot. She was concerned that she might damage her car or the one parked next to it when getting in or out of it."
The parking garage at 10 Franklin Square in New Britain is big. It accommodates several state agencies and workers and visitors to the Superior Court in the same complex. Thousands of vehicles of varying sizes use that garage without incident every week. The spaces, based on experience and observation, appear to be of a uniform size, except, of course, the spots reserved for people with disabilities.
In her testimony before the legislature last year, Katz promised that she would work "not to be seen as, you know, functioning in an ivory tower." She did, however, want a special parking space. According to spokesman Dennis Schain, Katz's request was granted, though it shouldn't have been: "In an ill-advised decision — without checking or communicating with any of his superiors — this person moved Consumer Counsel Katz's space to what is technically called an 'access aisle' identified by painted cross stripes. This area is adjacent to a handicapped parking spot."
That's misleading, if not outright inaccurate. The law is specific about the size and elements of spaces designated for the use of people with disabilities. They "shall be as near as possible to a building entrance or walkway and shall be 15 feet wide including five feet of cross hatch." The space is marked with several signs. Besides, even if it's an "access aisle" for people with disabilities, you're still not supposed to park in it.
Katz commandeered and kept a space for people with disabilities because it is big and she thought she was entitled. For more than a year, Katz, whose job is to stand up to powerful forces on behalf of the rest of us, took a space reserved by law for people who can only travel, for example, in a van that uses a lift to get them in and out of their vehicle.
We long ago reached a consensus that a compassionate society accommodates those whose mobility is compromised by the randomness of this world. Go to a shopping mall on the day after Thanksgiving. All the regular spaces may be full, but you know it is against the law and just plain wrong to park in an unoccupied spot designed for people with disabilities. We disdain and fine the few still who refuse to recognize this basic decency. People like Elin Katz.
At her confirmation hearing last year, Katz touted her accessibility, claiming "basically if somebody calls my office and wants to meet, we meet them." Last week, she refused to speak to me, so I can't tell you why she thought it was proper to park in a space for people with disabilities for more than a year. Others who use that garage knew it was wrong.
After my inquiry Monday, Katz was told to give it up. She has begun parking next to the space for people with disabilities. Wherever she parks, Katz has revealed herself as unsuitable for a job that is intended to serve the powerless, who she disdains.
Kevin Rennie is a lawyer and a former Republican state legislator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.